City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

An Actor's Lament Review

By Justine Blundell - Posted on 14 August 2013

An Actor's Lament
Show details
Assembly Hall
Running time: 
Steven Berkoff (writer/director)
Steven Berkoff (John), Jay Benedict (David), Andree Bernard (Sarah)

Steven Berkoff is a Fringe favourite. He is, perhaps surprisingly, the most performed living playwright of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and second only to Shakespeare as the most performed, alive or dead. Although now in his seventies, Berkoff is still very much alive and still fiercely kicking out at everything that ails him.

While still maintaining his reputation as the bad boy of British Theatre, if his recent rants on BBC 2’s Johnnie Walker’s Guest Night are anything to go by, he is now less angry young man and more grumpy old git. An Actor’s Lament is Berkoff’s latest play that sees him turn his once outward gaze inwards, to rail against all aspects of his chosen profession.

This is a three-hander with Jay Benedict playing a successful playwright, the mellifluous Andree Bernard as an aging actress and Berkoff as… well, Berkoff! Rather than solid, believable characters they each represent the typical attitudes held by their kind. They begin in quintessential luvvie harmony, each murmuring platitudes of flattery in support of the other and uniting in their derision of the ‘banal and simplistic shite’ written by critics.

London’s West End comes under attack as a ‘morgue of revival’; TV soaps as the ‘rancid junk food on which the mob do feed’ and the soap stars themselves, any actor not apprenticed through the Rep system, directors and playwrights do not fare any better. It is as their opinions reach their point of departure that the gloves come off and their true colours are exposed in glorious, spewing technicolour.

While what is said reveals nothing new, Berkoff’s writing still contains a rhythmic beauty, incisive wit and ambrosian, eminently quotable turns of phrase. Also enduring is Berkoff’s physical style which demands that actors embody the words, not just spout them out, ensuring that a Berkoff play is always a truly theatrical experience. His actors did not let him down.

Berkoff’s character informs us that the best playwrights were once actors, like Shakespeare - and, though it is only implied, like Berkoff himself. Also, like Shakespeare, Berkoff writes in verse. It was interesting then that Berkoff, after fretting and strutting for about an hour upon the stage, cunningly chose to end his play by quoting the Bard’s Scottish one, that neatly summed the whole thing up: ‘it is a tale… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. But I would also add, he does talk sense and, in his plays at least, he does so with style.

Runs until 20 Aug

13-15, 19-20, £18 (£16)

16-18, £20 (£18)